More notes from Boxing Plato’s Shadow

Kant, Leibniz, and Dilthey. These thinkers pointed out that, although “truth” may exist in a general objective sense, the realities with which people actually live are “meanings.” Meanings are perceived, interpreted “truths,” and these are always assigned by individuals and cultures, and they are always influenced by context. The idea that people do not experience reality, but only “truths” filtered through interpretation and assignment of “meaning,” was an important breakthrough in human understanding.


I.A. Richards proposed that, although meaning is conveyed through words, which are imperfect symbols of the things they represent in the world, meaning occurs not in the words themselves but in people’s thoughts.


Burkean analysis.


Habermas suggested that there are three domains of human knowledge: worklanguage, and power. For the domain of power, he believed that knowledge can be created only by self reflection through critical theory. In his view, the fundamental purpose of rhetorical criticism is liberation, and the primary purpose for understanding persuasion is to defend oneself against it.


Robert L. Scott took the point of view that humans “cannot be certain but must act in the face of uncertainty.” Scott argued that people speak and act before they know and that it is by speaking and acting that humans come to know.


The rhetorical situation.


Ernest Bormann (1972) observed that people use narratives to share their views about life; that is, they express and learn these outlooks by telling, and listening to, stories. Bormann labeled views about how life works “rhetorical visions,” since the familiar themes contained in them create a shared, persuasive vision of reality that brings groups together. He developed an analytic method he called fantasy theme analysis to identify the persuasive messages embedded in the themes of narratives.


Walter Fisher (1987) observed how extensively humans tell stories as ways of communicating and reasoning. Recognizing the importance of stories in human communication, he offered what he called the narrative paradigm, suggesting that stories incorporate all the rationality of traditional argument, as well as evoke listeners’ values. Fisher’s work provided the conceptual framework for a method of critically analyzing narratives by focusing on the events, characters, settings, and themes. The persuasive impact of a story can be evaluated by judging its coherence–whether it hangs together–and its fidelity–whether it rings true for the listener.


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